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The Haunting (1999)
Rated PG13

Starring: Liam Neeson, Lili Taylor, and Catherine Zeta-Jones

Rating:
**1/2
out of
*****

Loosely based on Shirley Jackson's novel, "The Haunting of Hill House," this 1999 sleeper hit puts Liam Neeson in charge of an experiment gauged to measure the human reaction to fear. Taking three insomniacs into an old mansion under the guise of an experiment involving sleep disorders, Neeson's Professor Marrow plans to measure their reaction to stories he's created involving the house. Unfortunately, his plans didn't include the house actually being haunted.

The participants in the experiment are Theo (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a beautiful bisexual model; Luke (Owen Wilson), a rather talkative young man and Eleanor (Lili Taylor), a woman who'd been caring for her now-deceased mother so long she never had the chance to have a life of her own. Soon after their arrival in the house, which resembles something from "Charles Foster Kane and the Munsters" according to Theo, strange things begin to happen. Eleanor seems to be the focus of the weird happenings and this causes the other people in the house to suspect she may be trying to influence them in some way by causing trouble. Those suspicions are short lived as the rest of the occupants also begin experiencing some unusual phenomenon as well.

The Haunting isn't a particularly scary movie, nor is it particularly good. However, it's definitely interesting to watch. Neeson, Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson aren't really given a lot to do, other than play off of Taylor's overreactions to things that happen in the house for the first half of the movie. Taylor, who's usually a fine actress, seems to be slumming here. She plays Eleanor in a strange sort of euphoric stupor that's more unnerving than anything that happens to the character. Theo's attempts to come on to Eleanor seem to evaporate midway into the film and one wonders what purpose they served other than to titillate those in the audience that might find the thought of Zeta-Jones with another woman exciting. (It never happens, nor does it even come close, so why bring it up in such an awkward fashion?) Neeson's Professor Marrow doesn't seem to do much in the way of conducting an experiment on fear other than mutter a few observations into a tape recorder. Owen Wilson's Luke is strangely similar to his role in Shanghai Noon, as he seems to utter every thought he has out loud.

The special effects in The Haunting are fantastic. CGI effects blend in seamlessly with model and animatronics to really create an effective set of visuals. The house, in both exterior and interior shots, is a marvel to look at. It's just too bad that nothing really exciting goes on inside or outside its walls.

If you're a fan of haunted house movies, The Haunting makes an admirable effort in creating a fine setting for its story, its just too bad that it doesn't provide an interesting setup or delivery of the scary stuff. It's a disappointing film.

Trivia: The house used in the film is located in Grantham, England and is owned by the University of Evansville (Indiana). It is used by students that study abroad. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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